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2-year circumnavigation expected to end today

The crew overcame storms, injuries, pirates and an earthquake in their effort to raise worldwide awareness of cancer.

By JON WILSON

© St. Petersburg Times, published March 18, 2001


An occasional article about activities on the south Pinellas County Tampa Bay waterfront.

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ST. PETERSBURG -- An around-the-world sailboat voyage to benefit cancer research is expected to end today at the St. Petersburg marina, two years after it began here.

Scott Peterson and his crew aboard the 51-foot Neil James battled storms, encountered pirates and experienced an earthquake during their 30,000-mile circumnavigation.

During the South Pacific leg, Peterson received broken and cracked ribs when a line attached to a sail broke loose and hit him in the chest, throwing him into the air and nearly overboard.

The crew did not reach Tahiti -- and a hospital -- for nearly three weeks after the accident. The final two days before reaching port, a storm blew up 30-foot waves.

Peterson quit his job as an airline pilot to undertake the voyage in memory of his father, who died of cancer in 1994 and for whom the Morgan cutter-rigged ketch is named.

The goal has been to increase cancer awareness worldwide and raise $1-million for research through donations, corporate sponsorships and Web site donations. The site, www.operationtradewinds.org, chronicles the journey.

Peterson, 37, left St. Petersburg on April 25, 1999. The first leg took the Neil James south through the Gulf of Mexico and into the Caribbean Sea, where a storm tore the boat's head sail and forced an unscheduled stop in Grand Cayman. The boat went through the Panama Canal into the Pacific Ocean, where storms plagued the crew until they reached Brisbane, Australia, in October. Lightning struck the boat once.

After the South Pacific cyclone season passed, the journey's second leg began in March 2000. It took Peterson and his crew across the Indian Ocean to the Suez Canal, which they reached in September. On the way, pirates harassed the group twice, once near Sri Lanka and again in the Red Sea. On the Indian Ocean island of Cocos Keeling, an earthquake struck. It bounced the boat around, but no one was injured.

The crew left Suez near the end of December, sailing through the Mediterranean into the Atlantic Ocean. The journey's final leg has been relatively uneventful, according to the Web site.

Peterson, who lives in Minneapolis, and other crew members returned to the United States between legs of the journey.

Marina officials expect the Neil James to reach port between noon and 2 p.m. today, depending on winds and weather.

* * *

The research vessel Suncoaster is an institution around the Bayboro docks. But it's time for the 105-foot Florida Institute of Oceanography ship to be replaced, officials say.

So a legislative campaign, pushed by marine research interest groups, has been launched. The project's first phase needs $1-million in planning money; about $10-million is needed to fund the entire project.

"Suncoaster has reached the end of her service life. As the principal provider of ship time at sea for the university system as a whole, we feel we need to build a new vessel," said John Ogden, FIO director.

The new ship would be slightly bigger than the Suncoaster, which has room for five crew members and 12 scientists.

The Suncoaster was originally built about 35 years ago as a mudboat to ferry pipe to well fields off Louisiana. The new boat would be built specifically for research needs, Ogden said.

It would be headquarters for a variety of activities at sea: scuba diving, chemistry and physics research, buoy servicing and specimen collecting, for example.

The new boat's home port would remain in St. Petersburg. It would probably be at sea 250 days a year, Ogden said.

The FIO operates another research vessel at Bayboro, the 71-foot Bellows.

The agency is situated behind the University of South Florida's St. Petersburg campus. It was established by the state university system to support marine research and work with educators, scientists and other agencies.

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